Skip to main content

tv   [untitled]    July 6, 2012 7:30pm-8:00pm EDT

7:30 pm
command. the air bridged harbor that twin cities frame. keep ancient lands, your storied pomp cries she with silent lips. give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses learning to breathe free. the wretched refuge of your shores, send these, your homeless, tempest toss to me. i lift my lamp beside the golden door. and i love what the scholar esther shore says about this poem is that, of course, it's a poem of welcome but it's also this poem of protest, that she's really saying, you know, we're not just going to accept the ancient world and its ideals. we have a different idea in mind. so help us make sense of this poem. >> the image of includesus that artists like bartholdi had came from a lithograph, german lithograph of the 18th century of the colossus of roads, and it shows a gigantic male figure
7:31 pm
astride two slivers of land cut by a harbor. and this was the harbor at rhodes, and this 18th century lithograph was very different. archaeologists found out from the original statue the colossus of rhodes. it was a warrior image, male image, powerful giant presiding over a victorious country and that's not like the brazen giant of greek fame. that's what emma lazarus had in mind. we're not doing that. >> and she started out with a negative statement which isn't what we usually think of with poetry, like let's start criticizing something else. >> not like the brazen giant of greek fame with conquering limbs, conquering limbs astride from land to land. we're not going to do that. we're going to have a milder image. now the image is still going to
7:32 pm
be a mighty woman with a torch, but it's interesting that the transformation has been from a male warrior image to a female image. it's not a demure woman. it's a powerful woman argues mighty woman, and she's captured lightning, right? is the imprisoned lightning, and her name, and emma lazarus gave her the name mother of exiles. so that she is a mother figure. >> to me that's the big moment in the poem that nobody knows. >> right, right. >> mother of exile, and -- and so she's shifting -- emma lazarus is shifting now from the negative to the positive so we're not going to do the kind of thing that the ancients did with her warrior culture. we're going to do something completely new. we're going to welcome all kinds of people who are suffering and need a safe harbor, and what we're going to do is we're going to have a mighty lady to go out into new york harbor and bid you
7:33 pm
welcome to our country, and so from her beacon hand beckoning people in, closed worldwide welcome, her mild eyes, so we're getting further and further away from the warrior image. her mild eyes command the air bridge harbor that twin cities frame, and then we go into the quotation. and then there's one more sort of negative comment and so emma has the statue of liberty say keep ancient lands your storied pomp, so, again, you ancient people, can you have your pomp. we're going to be more humble, you know. we're going to welcome the huddled masses, the humble people, the people who have nothing, and we're going to give them something, and the statue of liberty is going to do that. >> yeah, and i love thinking about this whole poem now knowing more about the history of the statue and emma lazarus, that it's not just this trope that we've all come to sing and
7:34 pm
know and love, that it actually is saying so much more, and another thing that's seldom known that within the same month that she writes "new colossus" she writes another poem called "1492" and it's really a companion piece. >> yeah. >> to "the news colossus" and it's explicitly about the jewish journey of exile and that in the year 1492, while we have the spanish inquisition, we also have columbus coming to america. >> right. >> and so she's saying these people who had not been accepted in the east nor the west were going to have this possibility, this new canvas, and so it's fascinating to see that between constance carrie harrison's accounts of how she convinced emma to write the poem because she said think of all the immigrants that you're so fond of that you're championing at the refuge, and this poem "1492" that is the direct following of "new colossus," that we know how much her own story and what she
7:35 pm
witnessed influenced this poem, that she just wasn't writing from a lofty place. >> no, no. she was writing from the heart. she was writing from experience, and she was writing from one of those life experiences that changes you, and i think that -- that as you said things were percolating in emma, but i think that they really came together in the early 1980s in new york out in the east river when emma was going and working with and giving some solace to people who were lost and hoping to find a home, and the fact that these people were jewish like emma lazarus, and so her judaism was both important to her and not important to her, and then she -- and lazarus had been accepted into high elite society of new york, which was a christian society, of course. and she was accepted into that society without in any way
7:36 pm
denying her jewishness or playing it down, but it -- it wasn't necessarily front and center for her, and i think that the experience of working with the -- with the jewish refugees and then thinking about how to cast their experience in these literary terms, that was a life-changing experience, or it represented a change that had already taken place and then allowed her to complete that change, and i think she had a different identity now. now she was a person who spoke for a group of people who were part of her, and the poems that she wrote -- she was always a brilliant poem, but her poems were not so connected with an intimate emotional life experience, and i think this is what happened in these poems from 1883. >> right. what's so interesting, too, is that a lot of people don't know
7:37 pm
that emma lazarus died a very young woman, that she dies by age 38 of hodgkin's disease. she's on travel to europe, comes home. there is a chance that on the boat coming back to new york is a very sick young woman she might have gotten up on deck and seen the statue, but she may never have seen it completed before she died at home and that when she dies, this poem, which is the only poem most americans know her for, is relatively unknown, that after that fund-raiser for the pedestal fund art loan exhibition for the pedestal, that the poem goes into obscurity for the most part. so what happens to the poem and then how does it get united with the statue and then starts speaking to a new generation? >> yeah, yeah, that was one of the things that most surprised me when i did the research for this book is how completely emma lazarus' poem was forgotten for
7:38 pm
the first 20 years of its life and arguably even for the first 50 years of her life so she writes it in 1833 for the art loan exhibit, fund-raiser and then falls into the obscurity, and it overshadowed by a xenophobic reaction against the huge numbers of people who are pouring in to the united states. and it's beginning in the 1880s and going up until the first world war. there are tens of millions of people who come in and these people for the most part are different or considered to be different from those who are already here. the new people come from southern europe and eastern europe. they are catholics and jews rather than protestants, and so that differentness worries a lot of people, and there's -- there's a huge fear that the country is going to become
7:39 pm
unrecognizable because so much people who aren't like the -- the northern european protestants who settled the country originally, so many people are coming here that were -- that we're not going to know who we are anymore, and so there is a -- quite a fierce reaction against it, so one of the best or worst examples of that is a poem that was written in 1890 -- well, published as a book in 1895 and first written in 1892 by a guy named aldrich who was the editor of "the atlantic" magazine, prominent literary person, and in this poem he presents the statue of liberty as a white goddess, quoting from the poem, whose purpose is to protect the united states from all the dangerous people who are coming in, and
7:40 pm
it's that image of the statue, the first image of the statue of liberty that's associated with immigration is -- presents immigration in a negative light, and the statue of liberty's purpose is not to welcome the immigrants but to shield us, and the title of aldrich's poem is "unguarded gates." and is it well to leave the gates unguarded? and so this is the kind of imagery. these are the worries that preoccupy people, and one of the things that appropriate tate these worries in this poem in the early 1890s is that the u.s. government decides that they need to build a center to receive all the immigrants, and -- and that they want to build the center not on the mainland but out in the harbor so that people who would be considered undesirable don't even get to set foot in the country, and the original idea is to build the immigration reception center on the same island where the statue of
7:41 pm
liberty stood called bedloe's island, and that then produced an uproar, an uproar. people said how can we solely the statue of liberty, already now accepted as a great american monument, how can we solely the statue of liberty with the riffraff from europe, and that's where ellis island came in, and the compromise was that we're going to put the immigration reception center in another place next door. yes, it's not far away but it's not symbolically on the same place, and so in fact originally in the 1890s, the statue of liberty had to actually be physically separated from immigration. it's worse than we're experiencing now. you know, it's a two decade long
7:42 pm
depression, and -- and there are -- it's a gilded age. there's a small group of people who are doing extraordinarily well and a large group of people who are suffering, and when you have a large group of people who are suffering and immigration and unemployment is high, immigration is controversial, then as now, and -- and it wasn't until the any picked up in the early years of the 20th century, and there were more writers who began to talk about the statue of liberty in positive terms and to relate it to immigration, so one of the really great moments in that is the play "the melting pot" which is an ode to the greatness of america as a country that can receive people from everywhere and blend them all together so that we can be integrated, and in that play which became fairly popular. the president went to see it in
7:43 pm
washington in 1908, the statue of liberty is represented there the way emma did, as a beacon of welcome for people from abroad, and i think that begins the process which doesn't really come to fruition until the new deal. it's not until then that emma's poem and the statue really gets rooted in this country's imagination as a symbol of welcome for immigrants. >> right, and how does fdr and the new deal and the effects of world war ii change the station of the statue in the american imagination? >> the first thing that happened is that immigration basically was over. 1920s, there was a piece of legislation, the immigration act that reduced immigration to a tiny trickle, and so by the 1930s, even though it was obviously a time of great economic difficulty, people weren't worried about
7:44 pm
immigration because there were so few people coming in, and one of the things the roosevelt administration wanted to do in the face of the economic depression and the face of the threats from abroad, the threat from nazi germany, was to foster unity in this country, and one way to do that would be to explicitly set out to make the immigrants who were now most of them american citizens, many of them who had been here for a couple of decades, to make them and the rest of the country feel that we were all one nation, and so there was a really explicit effort during the new deal to create the sense that we were a country of immigrants. we could be united around that idea, and this was a good thing, and so nothing better stood for this notion than emma lazarus' poem. >> yeah. >> and then during the war, when we were confronted with these terrible forms of tyranny, the
7:45 pm
statue of liberty seemed to represent a kind of an america as an island of safety in the midst of this hideous terror that was going on in europe. >> right. one of the exhibitions that we have here at the museum is called "voices of liberty," and it features audio testimony by survivors and other refugees in the 20th century, particularly holocaust survivors in finding great hope in that symbol, and i know you've come across some great quotations, too. >> i have a couple of quotations. many of these i found in a compilation for the centennial of the statue of liberty, again, completely financed by private contributioned. there wasn't a single penny that went in to the restoration of the statue of liberty, and so people were asked for donations and an awful lot of people wrote letters. they sent in letters with them, an here's one from a holocaust survivor in not very good english, an here's what she writes. she said i'd spent many years in
7:46 pm
concentration camp by hitler. i lost father, mother, three sister, two brothers. was agony. hunger, torture. our uncle in the united states made affidavit, and we arrived in january 1948. was a blizzard, and we pointed to that lovely lady, the statue of liberty, the biggest dream i ever had. and, you know, you read things like that, and you really understand what the statue of liberty is about and why it's such an emotional symbol for us, and i won't read them now, but there are earlier quotations of people who choose, who escape programmes in rush who remember what it was like to see the statue of liberty and to know that they were safe when they saw the statue of liberty. and bartholdi, he understood --
7:47 pm
he didn't think of the statue of liberty as welcome being immigration, immigrants, but he understood by placing it on bedloe's island that every ship that came in to the united states would have to almost touch the statue of liberty, because right at the end of the narrows, so you go through the narrows and it channels you, every boat into a place where you have to come so close to the statue of liberty that you can't possibly miss it, and so that's why it just became when you were on that boat, coming into the united states and you saw the statue of liberty, you could practically reach out and touch it and everybody said that. they said everybody moved to the side of the boat. we felt that the boat was going to tip over. everybody was crying, and all these testimonies. people are crying when they see the statue of liberty, and -- and she comes alive. they speak to her, and they -- they -- they -- and she speaks to them, and they speak to her, and -- and it's this amazing emotional experience. you know you're here when you see the statue of liberty, and you can almost reach out and
7:48 pm
touch it. >> and something about the statue, even though she's such a fixed icon in our memory, she always looks like she's in motion if you really look at her, and in a way it looks like she's almost coming out of the harbor, coming through the mist, and i think it -- in some of these more recent times that she was a very powerful symbol during 9/11. how did americans come to reimagine her in the face of 9/11? >> yeah. i think that after 9/11 the statue of liberty, everyone, of course, was relieved that the stat you've liberty was untouched, and we were especially relieved because we knew that the objectives of terrorism were symbol ic, that one of the reasons they went after the world trade towers, that it was a symbol of american economic power, and so it was easy to see that terrorists could have gone after the statue of liberty, too, so there was a sense of relief, and also the idea that the statue of liberty
7:49 pm
still standing after -- after 9/11 was a symbol of the resilience of the united states and statue of liberty and partly the statue could become a symbol of resistance because this is not a demure little lady. this is a tough mother of the harbor who is in motion. you can see her back foot is up, as if she's striding, moving forward, and she's going into the headwinds, whatever headwinds are going to be coming at us, she's going to stand there and protect us, standing at the gate to the united states in our most important harbor, and i -- so i think that she really represented that really extraordinary resilience of this city and the country as a whole after those attacks. >> yeah, and it's like she's always lifting that lamp, that it's -- it's an active gesture. it's not a piece of antiquity, that it's very much for americans, for visitors, for
7:50 pm
tourists and for american jews, a very powerful symbol of that eternal light and that hope. >> yeah, absolutely, and it's -- and especially we didn't -- we can maybe, if you're interested, get into the details of the construction of the statue of liberty, but this was an amazing feat of engineering in the engineering in the 1880s to build the statue of liberty. you probably know that the skeleton was built by gustav estell and to be able to pull that off and be able to have the thing stay up in the winds of new york harbor, was a incredible feet of engineering and to be able to give the idea that the statue was in motion was extraordinary and to be able to have created this work of public art that could take on
7:51 pm
all of these new meanings in different generations so that after 9/11 it could mean resilliances. this art was able to have meaning for people in all kinds of different times. >> right and i'm sure that members of our audience here have their own meanings. we'll take a moment. there will be a microphone floating through the audience. we will ask you to keep it to questions rather than questions or statements rather than take it from the floor. >> there is an early proposed
7:52 pm
statue in which she had it in the her arm. did he change that for symbolic purposes? >> that is a great question. he changed the arms because one of the first in carnations of the statue had her holding a broken chain in the hand that now holds the tablet. it was supposed to represent the abolition of slavery. and by the time the statue got built, the abolition mean iing gave way to the idea that the statue represents the majesty of law and that is why she is holding a tablet and somewhere in there, i don't remember the reason why. but there is an engineering reason why the torch had to be
7:53 pm
in one arm and not the other. given the way that the statue was going to be facing. >> microphone. >> i think the statue is a kind of female moses for me with no torch, he had tablets. what were the jewish connotations? >> a female moses. >> as a kind of moses. that makes a lot of sense.
7:54 pm
i don't know that he had the idea of moses liberating the jewish slaves of egypt but certainly any educated person at the time would know that story intimately. the fact that his original idea would be liberated and makes that a completely plausible sensible idea. that some where in there was the idea that the statue was the kind of moses liberating the jewish slaves. absolu absolutely. one of the things to mention, by the time the statue went up, it took a long time to build, to
7:55 pm
raise the money. by then the reconstruction period was over. it had turned a fiair number of americans against the way that reconstruction had folded. so the imagery had been submerged enormously. and the 1880s was a period of a lot of racial strive was parts of the country were trying to re-establish a hierarchy. there were lynching every week. and so the african-american commentary on the statue of liberty when it went up was quite hostile. it said what does this imagery mean in a country when a period is suffering that way?
7:56 pm
and there was a feminist react too? you have made it a woman and women don't have the right to vote. there was a group that chartered the boat and sailed it out and they had a bullhorn. there were almost no women that were part of the official ceremony and they spread the sufferage i sufferagist message. >> and it still serves as a counter point. why don't we sum up by talking about the ways that the statue serves as a statement in the harbor. >> probably the one to begin with is the goddess that the chinese students put up in 1989.
7:57 pm
this very explicitly design to be a replica of the statue of liberty. the young man i can't remember his name came up with the idea had a postcard of the statue of liberty. he was from a town about three hours by train from beijing. the reason why i know about this was he was interviewed in one of the talk of the town columns. he goes to beijing and goes with his photograph of the statue of liberty and goes to the art school and he and the students there decide that they need to represent their movement by creating a statew of liberty. and they build it and at the last minute they change the features of it to make it look
7:58 pm
more chinese for fear that the government would come down on them if he they produce an image that was too western. there was a photograph of the god es of liberty looking as if to say, you know, we are going to make it and you are not. so, i think that is the clearest representation or way that other people have used excuse me the statue of liberty to represent ideals of liberty that they want. but there are almost 40 countries around the world that have replicas around the country. there are 4 in japan and two in china. and france, has 13 replicas of the statue of liberty and three in paris alone.
7:59 pm
in ukraine there is a statue of liberty. any place where at a point in time people have wanted to express their desire for liberty for change for a better way of life. the statue of liberty is an image that has come to mind. that is why i think there are so many replicas. i love one of the things that you said she comes to represent whatever we need her for. she is both a piece of the past but also leading the way for ideals. >> after 9/11 we needed her he for reassurance, for a sense of persistence. she had been there in new york harbor for over 100 years and was unscathed by this attack and we could look to
disc Borrow a DVD of this show
info Stream Only
Uploaded by
TV Archive
on 7/6/2012